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Waiting for the Truck in Ushuaia

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We had planned to spend most of our time in South America on the Hot Rock Global Challenge rock climbing expedition. Hot Rock is a loosely affiliated and organised group of climbers circumnavigating the globe in a big red truck specifically converted for the job. We, along with the majority of its passengers, were joining it for just a fraction of its three-year journey.

One Week Before Truck Departure
Given the minimal cost we hadn’t expected Hot Rock to be a slick professional affair, but with a week to go before the truck was due to depart from Ushuaia, we had expected to receive some sort of information on where we would be meeting up. We supposed that an information pack had been sent to our postal address sometime in the last 8 months, but since we had been travelling we weren’t to know. I sent an email off to Stiggy, but given previous exchanges I didn’t hold out too much hope for a speedy reply. We wasted a couple of days in Punta Arenas rationalising that it was better to spend dead time there than in the dump that the guidebooks assured us that Ushuaia was.

Three Days before Truck Departure Date
Our bus to Rio Grande, where we would change for Ushuaia, left Punta Arenas at 7 am and for the next 9 hours we were bored nearly to tears by Patagonia’s barren scenery. Patagonia has a reputation for spectacular mountain backdrops, but that’s not representative of the thousands of unchanging empty dust-filled miles. The dirt roads stretch in perfectly straight lines for as far as the eye can see. If you happen to fall asleep for an hour or so, when you awake it is difficult to tell whether you have actually gone anywhere or if you are still in the same place. The only distraction from the barren scenery is the sky, which, since there are no hills or mountains, seems to fill your vision.

As scheduled we changed onto a minibus in Rio Grande and soon we were off at breakneck speeds into the Tierra Del Fuego National park leaving behind a dust cloud a mile long. At last the scenery started to change and we were treated with breathtaking views of alpine rock. At one of the most beautiful spots the driver stopped to allow us to take photos, we presumed, but when we got out we found he wasn’t concerned that we see the best of Argentina at all. We had a puncture.

Wheel replaced we continued uneventfully into Ushuaia. Walking around the town we found Ushuaia, contrary to everything we had been told, to be a lovely town full of friendly people.

We checked our email and still no mention of where we were to meet. I was really starting to get concerned at this stage and paranoid thoughts kept creeping into my head. Had the truck been delayed by weather? Were we meant to be meeting in a different town? Had the truck already left? In desperation I group emailed a list Stiggy had previously mailed, asking if anyone knew where we were meant to be meeting up. After getting something to eat still no-one had replied. Paranoia was starting to get to me… after all our time in Asia I was now vaguely entertaining the idea that Hot Rock was just some kind of hugely elaborate scam. A quick search of the Internet produced remarkably little information for an expedition that was on the road for over a year. Surely it couldn’t be a scam, I mean the brochures, the talk run by the Mountaineering Council of Ireland? By the time I went to sleep concern had turn to anxiety.

Two Days before Truck Departure Date
The next morning I get one response someone in England basically saying “I don’t know why I got this email, I’m in work in Liverpool – I presume from your email you are trying to find the Big Red Truck, I did a previous leg, Have fun.” At least this was evidence that Hot Rock existed … or maybe it was just dummy email address and all just part of the elaborate scam. The truck was due to leave in less than two days now, I would have expected to have met up with everybody already and be preparing for departure.

Another strange thing was that there was no sign of our friend from home, Phil. He had emailed us a few days previously to say that he was flying into Ushuaia on Friday. Yet on Saturday there was no sign of him in the town. We had asked around at the hostels if they’d seen a Big Red Climbing Truck or an Irish Guy that answers to the name of Phil, but no joy. Meanwhile Barbara, while I suspect secretly worried too, was all but openly laughing at my paranoia. By now I was checking my email every two hours and preparing to fork out a fortune to phone the Hot Rock number in the UK.

There was just a single email in my inbox from a guy called Colin. “Myself, Dai and Nick are in town too, we are staying in the Rugby Club campsite, we will be in the Sheik Bar tomorrow night at 7 o’clock, which is where we are meant to meet up with everyone else.” Fantastic! There was more than just the two of us in town, but even this solid evidence didn’t fully extinguish my doubt. Just because there were three other people were in town didn’t mean it wasn’t a scam, it could just mean that they scammed 5 people instead of 2. But still, even if it was scam it was reassuring to know we weren’t the only suckers.

Not willing to wait a minute longer I cajoled Barbara into taking a taxi out to the campsite to meet our fellow “suckers”. Soon we were face to face with Colin, Nick and Dai, who had all met by accident on the way to Ushuaia.. That night we visited the Sheik Bar but it was closed and looked derelict. This did not bode well. How’s this for a scam? Give us a stack of cash for a climbing trip and we will see you in the most southerly town in the world in a bar that’s been closed for year. Not only did they have our cash they were probably laughing their asses off too.

So we went to the U! Bar for a couple of drinks to try piece together what little information we had between us. Facts were rare but vague rumours abounded. Nothing, however, could be confirmed. The best we could gather was that the fabled truck could not be shipped from South Africa to Ushuaia and had instead been shipped to Buenos Aires and was being driven down, at least a 4 day drive. That could explain why Phil was nowhere to be found. He had probably received a last minute communiqué, cancelled his flight and was now on the truck and unable to get to an Internet café – unheard of for Phil. Just as we had settled on this theory, in walked Phil. He had indeed flown out of Buenos Aires on Friday as planned, but had only been able to get a flight half the way and had just spent the last 30 hours on buses. Not only did that bring our numbers up to six, but Phil had also spotted two Australian climbers on the bus, one of whom was apparently the truck physio. I went to bed that night feeling more confident than I had felt anytime over the previous 24 hours.

One day before Truck Departure
The apparent plan was to meet the group at the now closed Sheik Bar at 7 pm. At 7pm we turned up to find two women: Anthea and Sarah. Both were relieved to see us and soon Anthea was laughing and Sarah giggling over their anxiety. The two Australians, Geoff and Clyde, joined us and we pieced together what we knew. Although we did not yet have positive proof that the truck existed we had enough information to strongly suggest that it was indeed making its way from Buenos Aires and would be in Ushuaia in a few days. Many beers were drunk and we all arranged to meet up the following night.

Supposed Truck Departure Date
We descended from our double room to find someone hunched over a laptop in the hostel’s kitchen. There was something about her that instantly told us she was with the truck and her bag of video cameras kind of suggested that she must be Mel, the truck’s videographer. Indeed she was. She had raced down from Buenos Aires to make sure no one was too panicked and to reassure everyone that the truck would indeed be with us in a couple of days. We spent the next few hours bombarding her with questions while trying not to appear too eager. Her wry smile told us we weren’t succeeding.

It was about now that I really started to feel stupid for ever thinking that it might have been scam.

Pictures - click to enlarge
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